Bulls rebound Sunday to cap good break

It was beginning to look as though the USF softball team would end a stellar spring break run on a sour note after the Bulls dropped their first two games of Conference USA play on the road to Louisville on Saturday.

However, the No. 18 Bulls snapped the two-game skid with a convincing 8-3 victory Sunday against the Cardinals, giving them their 11th win in 13 games during the break and a much needed victory in conference play.

“I wasn’t disappointed (with the two losses). It was just that some bounces that didn’t go our way,” USF coach Ken Eriksen said. “We didn’t catch the ball very well, and we let them gain momentum. We just have to play better. But we played a hard and grueling schedule, and 11 out of 13 isn’t bad.”

After putting together an impressive 10-game winning streak, the longest winning streak this season that led to a pair of tournament titles, the Bulls (27-7) stumbled on defense in a doubleheader Saturday against Louisville, committing eight errors in the two games, which was half as many errors USF had total during its previous winning streak.

“You can’t avoid errors too long,” Eriksen said. “We have to get better. We have to tighten (the defense) up a little bit better. Right now (errors) seem to be our Achilles’ heel.”

The defense still struggled Sunday, committing three errors, but the offense provided enough punch to pull out the win.

USF senior Holly Groves moved past former Bull and current assistant coach Monica Triner into first place on the all-time home run list with her ninth blast of the season, the 24th of her career, in Saturday’s loss to the Cardinals. Groves arguably has been USF’s most productive hitter this season, leading the team in RBI (40), hits (45) and total bases (81), while hitting .429, which is second to Kattrina Dowd’s .451 average.

“If you take a look at the stats, one thing most people don’t notice is the on-base percentage of Kattrina (Dowd) and Shelley (Riker). And then around the corner you have Samantha Ray at No. 9, so you’re talking about a lot pressure for other team when they have to throw to Holly.

“If you get them hitting behind and in front of (Holly), it’s a dangerous recipe for success.”

But the most stellar accomplishment went to senior pitcher Leigh Ann Ellis, who was named USA Softball National Player of the Week, the Louisville Slugger/NFCA National Player of the Week and the C-USA co-Pitcher of the Week for her performance in the Speedline Invitational in Clearwater.

Ellis, who was also named the tournament MVP, picked up four of USF’s five wins and earned the save in the other game in the tournament, posting a 0.00 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 24 innings. Ellis also held the U.S. Olympic team scoreless for 5 1/3 innings, the longest the national team has been held scoreless during the “Aiming for Athens Tour,” in a 3-0 loss on March 6.

“It’s a great honor to be named USA Softball National Player of the Week,” Ellis said in a statement. “But I could not have gotten it without the great defense behind me.”

Ironically, it was the defense that hurt the Bulls against the Cardinals, as Ellis suffered the loss in the first game of the series, before rebounding to pick up the victory Sunday.